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A letter from Kurt Esslinger serving in South Korea
September 2014 - God Is In Korea
Greetings friends, family, and supporters,
An entire year of Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in Korea with us has passed and a new set of young adults has already hit the ground full speed in struggling to adapt to a new culture. Also, Happy Chuseok! The Korean Harvest Festival just passed this past week, and Hyeyoung, Sahn, and I went to see the grandparents in Ulsan, eating ourselves silly.
We did not have much time to reflect on our first set of YAVs since they headed back to the States in July because I started the additional new position (working with the National Council of Churches in Korea's Reconciliation and Reunification Department), which takes me to Seoul for three days every week. Chuseok gave us a little bit of breathing time, however, and we feel very positive about our work and the future potential for this site. We have much work to do in terms of expanding the site and adding some diversity to the volunteer opportunities, but we have a solid foundation to work from.Continue reading
A letter from Burkhard Paetzold serving as Regional Liaison for Central and Eastern Europe, based in Germany
Fall 2014 - European Christians' Meeting
I hope you enjoyed a great summer!
Let me thank you for all your prayers and support. I thank you in particular for your peace prayers, it's so much needed in Ukraine as well as in the Middle East these days.
German churches prepare for their annual Ecumenical Peace Decade festival, November 9-19. The theme is "Befreit zum Widerstehen" (Liberated to Resist). During the yearly 10 days of the "Friedensdekade" (Peace Decade) many churches join in worship services and prayer groups, or show movies, invite peace activists, develop creative workshops, and much more. This is to remind us to resist cultures of violence, including the violence in our own culture.
In Europe we have just commemorated 100 years since the beginning of World War I and 75 years since the beginning of World War II. Ironically at the same time leading German politicians are discussing whether Germany should assume greater international responsibility. This would also include more participation in "military" interventions. Given that Germany was an aggressor in both wars, a majority of Germans soon after World War II agreed "to never touch a gun again." But then the Cold War began and both East and West Germany within their respective military blocks rearmed gradually and targeted each other.Continue reading
A letter from Sharon Bryant serving in Thailand
Fall 2014 - Being in the Right Place
There is a deep joy that fills my heart each day, for God has put me in the right place and given me work to do that fills my time, uses my gifts, and reveals the work of the Holy Spirit in strange and wonderful ways! While the decision for me to move to Bangkok and work in the Ecumenical Relations Office of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) was made jointly by PC(USA) World Mission and the CCT, it has become obvious to me that it truly was the will of God. The work that I now do with the rest of the Ecumenical Relations staff mirrors what I have been doing with Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT), but now I am able to do so much more for so many more people! And the work of Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) is much more visible—so visible that the officers of the CCT have approved three new staff positions: a mission co-worker to share the workload of caring for all mission workers (CVTs and mission co-workers), another mission worker to specialize in child protection and human trafficking, and a Thai to assist with record keeping and support the CCT’s Korean mission workers. While two of these have yet to join us, we have been blessed by the work of Rev. Dr. Ann Rogers Brigham this summer. Ann is the pastor of the Congregational (UCC) Church of Almaden Valley in California. She took a six-week sabbatical to come to Thailand to share in the work and ministry of the Ecumenical Relations Office. She traveled with me as we visited CVT volunteers in seven of the Christian schools of the CCT and led teacher-training seminars for the English teachers in those schools. Her past experience living and working in Thailand and her experience in teaching English as a second language to Vietnamese persons living in California showed in her work with the Thai teachers, our volunteers and me.Continue reading
A letter from Barry and Shelly Dawson serving as Regional Liaisons for Southeast Asia, based in Thailand
September 2014 -Visiting Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand
The Hills Are Alive …
We were climbing a mountain where the only sane choice was a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It was not like the steady, straight-up climb of a roller-coaster inexorably inching its way up a steep incline high above the flickering rainbow lights of an amusement park, with chains and gears making that unmistakable clanking sound, as riders with white knuckles grip the shiny silver retainer bars and a barrel of butterflies is released inside your stomach before the downward plunge that leaves you screaming with a strange, emotional concoction of unbridled, childlike joy and unmasked adult fear. Rather, ours was an ascent mixed with sharp, hairpin turns and innumerable switchbacks that ultimately led us to a summit that provided a commanding vista for the verdant hills and valleys of northern Thailand.
A letter from Kristi Rice serving in Congo
September 2014 - Sharing Building Costs
On the way back to Kananga from Mutoto (about 40 miles northeast of Kananga) in March we stopped in a large village to visit the local Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) congregation. Trying to maneuver myself out of where I was wedged in the back of the Land Cruiser, I realized that a container of palm oil had sloshed around on the turbulent drive, and there was bright orange oil on my clothes and several of our bags. Annoyed that we had made this stop and frustrated with big stains on my clothes, I followed the urging of my guide to join the others in the church. Although it was Monday afternoon, a crowd was gathered in the thatch-roofed church to receive us. Pastor Kadima gave a word of welcome and appreciation for our visit, and then explained the project of building a more durable structure. They had already put up a wood structure and bought about half of the needed roof sheets—a rare and significant accomplishment! They were requesting help from the CPC for cement and the rest of the roof sheets and the bricks. We affirmed the hard work that they had done and their desire for a more durable structure and said our Department of Evangelism would consider what help we could give. Then, truly humbled by the commitment and sacrifice of this congregation, I received the live chicken they presented us with.Continue reading
A letter from Nadia Ayoub serving in Ukraine
September 2014 - A New School Year
May the God of hope fill you all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
Dear Friends and Families,
Peace and grace in abundance for you all. Thank God, for he is our hope, shield, and strength all our days. Thank you so much for your prayers and kindness and encouragements and support. I miss you all, but I cherish the memory of the joyful time I had with many of you.
Praise God, we in the west part of Ukraine continue to have a peaceful atmosphere . But they call the young men to join the army and every once in a while we receive word of a casualty, and that makes people sad and worry. The Roma people have some fear; they used to live in open homes and open yards, but last month they all built a fence around their homes and a closed gate. Once I asked a Roma woman, "Why do you have the fence?" and quickly she said, "We are afraid." I asked, "Of what?" She thought for a while and then said, "The dogs." But Roma people love dogs. They always have many dogs, and they are not vicious because they live in the open—and when they are puppies the children play with them all the time. So they are not really afraid of the dogs; they are scared of new discrimination if there is a war. Inflation is going higher and higher every day and people worry about the winter—if there will be gas and electricity for heat.Continue reading
A letter from Kate Taber serving in Israel-Palestine
September 30, 2014 - Hope in Spite of Drought
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit—Jeremiah 17:7-8.
Dear Friends and Family,
So much has happened since I last wrote to you July 2nd. At the time I told you that it was the worst period I had experienced here. Then just days later Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against the people of Gaza. You have seen in the news the destruction and death that resulted in Gaza: over 2,100 people killed including 500 children, 500,000 people displaced, over 11,000 injured, 15 of 32 hospitals damaged and 6 closed, 133 schools and universities damaged, as well as significant damage to factories, power plants, and water facilities.
Now that the bombs have stopped falling, Gaza has dropped out of the world’s headlines. Yet the suffering continues. Injuries have left 1,000 children with permanent disability, 1,500 children have been orphaned, 373,000 children require direct and specialized psychosocial support, 100,000 people are homeless, 1.8 million people are food-insecure, thousands of explosive remnants of war are scattered all over Gaza, and virtually the entire population is without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.Continue reading
A letter from Jenny and Jed Koball serving in Peru
September 2014 - A Labyrinth of Learning
In the heart of this desert city of Lima, there is a tiny park. This park is one of the few green spaces in the city, and inside this park there is a labyrinth. The path of the labyrinth is paved with tiny pebbles, bordered by larger rocks that are smooth and rounded, many of which carry the name of a Peruvian with the dates of his or her death. There are nearly 70,000 such rocks with names and dates on them. Each name is of someone who was killed or disappeared during the 20 years of political violence in Peru (1980–2000) in which predominately rural communities (mostly indigenous and mostly impoverished) were trapped between the forces of communist terrorist groups and the dirty war tactics of the government trying to eradicate them. The vast majority of the victims were innocent people killed by those claiming to fight on their behalf or defend them from the other entity. And so, at the center of the labyrinth is a much bigger rock, and out of this rock flows a steady stream of water. This is the Ojo Que Llora (The Eye That Cries)—reminding us of God our Creator who mourns what we humans are capable of doing to one another and imploring us to never forget, so that we never repeat.Continue reading
A letter from John McCall serving in Taiwan
September 2014 - Outreach and Renewal
I've been back in Asia for about a month-and-a-half, and it's been wonderful to reconnect with friends here and also catch my stride as I serve with the church in this vast continent.
Earlier in September I flew to Malaysia, about a five-hour flight, to teach with a long-time Taiwanese friend and colleague. Most Christians in Malaysia are ethnic Chinese, so we can teach in Mandarin. Malaysia is a wonderful culturally rich country with different people groups: Malay (who are almost all Muslim), ethnic Chinese, ethnic Indian, and the aboriginal Malaysians. While there is not perfect harmony among these groups, it is inspiring in our divided world to see these people groups living together and also keeping their ethnic traditions and languages.
We first taught in Johor Bahru, a city right next to Singapore. Each night from the inn in which I was staying I could see cars lined up to go to Singapore and/or see hundreds of Malaysians driving home in cars or on motorcycles after working all day in Singapore. What most impressed me in the Presbyterian Church of Malaysia was the number of first-generation Christians. I would often ask folks how long they have been Christians, and so many said they are the first Christian in their family. There seems to be a real natural evangelism among these Christians. It is against the law to evangelize an ethnic Malay, and it is against the law for them to convert from Islam. But it is legal to share the gospel with both ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians. I was also impressed with the numbers of youth who came to our classes. They sat on hard pews in the church for hours, listening and participating with a real hunger to grow. They are both an ethnic minority and a religious minority, so they want to know how to grow in their faith and how to be the fragrance of Christ with their friends, family, and classmates. The second half of the week we taught in a fairly new church in the capital of Kuala Lumpur.Continue reading
A letter from Dennis Smith in the U.S., from Argentina (Regional liaison for Brazil and Southern Cone)
September 2014 - Drinking from a Fire Hydrant
Recently I was at Grace Presbyterian Church in Midland, Texas, renewing friendships with members of a Tres Rios Presbytery mission study delegation that visited Uruguay last March. Tres Rios has a friendship with the Evangelical Church of Río de la Plata (IERP), a PC(USA) mission partner with congregations in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
As we drove from the airport, I was struck by how similar west Texas is to the vast El Chaco region that covers parts of northern Argentina, southern Bolivia and Paraguay. Similar sparse terrain. Similar harsh climate.
When they were in Uruguay last March, the Tres Ríos folks spent several hours swapping stories with members of an IERP congregation in the little town of Nueva Helvecia (New Switzerland). This community was founded by Swiss immigrants in 1862; the church hall where we met had been dedicated in November 1863. Since the ancestors of this group were facing economic and political hardship in Europe, they decided to cast their lot in the New World. They heard stories from relatives and friends of a brutal war that had broken out in the United States—the Civil War—and so they decided to come to Uruguay instead.Continue reading
A letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington serving in Zambia
September 2014 - Jump-Starting Life in Zambia
It seemed almost like the set-up for a joke:
Q: How many jet-lagged Americans does it take to push-start a dead-batteried SUV on a bumpy dirt driveway, in their Sunday clothes, to arrive at church late and receive a round of welcoming applause?
A: Four, with the 12-year-old at the wheel.
So went our morning adventure on the first day back in Zambia after being gone a year. Chris had to steer the car in neutral without hitting any bushes while the three adult-sized family members pushed it down our curvy, bumpy, and narrow hedge-lined driveway. When we made it to the slightly smoother dirt road encircling the main college buildings and playing fields we switched drivers; the clutch was popped, and with a jerk and a sputter we were off to church!
The car-starting incident turned out to be a bit of a metaphor for our adjustment back to Zambia. We had expected to encounter some curves and bumps after a year away—and we have. But with some effort and determination, and by the grace of God, things seem to be popping into place, and we feel life has revved back up to full speed quite quickly! Perhaps the most striking similarity is that once the car did get going that first morning, we marveled at how smoothly it ran despite a year without being driven. Similarly, we’ve been surprised by how well life and ministry are moving forward for us in Zambia, despite our year away.Continue reading
A letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig serving in Niger
September 2014 - “The Bumpy Road”
When we first arrived in Niger two months ago, the leader from our partner church in charge of greeting us spent a fair amount of time sharing songs with us in the Hausa language. The one that really stuck with us is about a bumpy road. It says, “I will go with Jesus everywhere, I don’t care about the bumpy road…” Every road is literally a bumpy road here, and as you can imagine we've had some metaphorically bumpy roads adjusting to life here. There have been bumpy roads in keeping mosquitoes away, keeping cool at night, and completing basic tasks like cooking and washing dishes. We've also seen the bumpiness of our limitations in not knowing anything in the language well enough to communicate much of substance. Happily, some of these limitations have been broken down through singing our bumpy road song! The song has turned out to be such a blessing because we see God working through it to open up relationships with people and congregations of the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN). It's amazing to see a congregation change from observing strange people from a distance to happy looks of recognition and acceptance as they realize we’re singing a song they can sing too.Continue reading
Thank You and Your Family for serving God by taking His word so far from Your Home.
God is doing his work and using us a tools in other nations.during my working here in Athens i observed that there are many oppertunities to share the Gospel massage with other those do not know Jesus and we can bring them to Jesus Christ.Please prayer for me that i'm a very littel to that God is using me here in Athens Greece. God bless you.